Sometimes it’s tough to catch your breath on the farm — especially during seeding. You’re dashing from the house to the shop to the field to the truck to town and back again all day. But at least you can be fairly certain the air is safe to breathe, when you have the time. Or can you?
Some jobs on the farm require a respirator. Yes, require is the right word. And not just any respirator. It’s got to fit the job and you.
There are two types of respirators: air purifying respirators and supplied air respirators. And then there are three types of air purifying respirators: quarter mask, half mask and full face piece.
The quarter mask is also known as a disposable respirator, dust mask or single-use respirator. It removes particles only. There are many different types and sizes. Find one that is comfortable for you. These range in price from $1 to $10 each, depending on the type. The half mask removes vapour and gas only, unless you insert a particle pre-filter. There are many different sizes and types ranging in price from $14 to $60 each. A full face piece protects the eyes, removes vapour and gas only, unless you use a particle pre-filter Prices range from $120 to $250 each.
It’s really important to use only certified masks and filters. Look for the NIOSH or equivalent approved emblem and an efficiency rating of at least N95. The rating indicates the mask has a 95 per cent filter efficiency rating and is not resistant to oil.
Here’s the not-so-secret code for face masks: N Series for Not resistant to oil; R Series for Resistant to oil; P Series for oilproof. The numbers refer to filter efficiency: 95, 99 and 99.97 per cent — the per cent of particulates removed by the filter. The higher the efficiency, the lower the leakage.
So if you just need to remove particles, use a mask with a filter. If you need to remove vapours and gases only, use a cartridge or canister. Combine them if you might encounter both hazards in your work on the farm. Remember — none of these respirators offers any protection in an oxygen-deficient atmosphere.
Whichever you choose, replace it regularly. Disposable masks are designed for single use only and should be discarded at the end of every day. You must clean polymer respirators after each use and replace the filters at the end of the day.
But don’t just grab a respirator off the shelf. Make sure it fits you properly. Here’s what’s called a negative fit test. Do it and you’ll be positive of a good fit.
1.Place the mask over your mouth and nose. Adjust straps so that the mask fits snugly.
2.Place hands over cartridge so that no air can enter.
3.Breathe in and hold your breath.
4.The mask should suck in against the face and stay there for 10 seconds after you’ve stopped breathing in.
5.If the mask does not collapse against the face or immediately releases, readjust the straps and repeat steps one through four.
If you can’t maintain a tight seal, try a different size, make or model of respirator until you find one that does seal properly. And/ or shave! If your face is fuzzy, the mask may not seal at all.
Store your mask in a clean, dry place in a tightly closed container or a sealed plastic bag. You’ll breathe easier, this spring and for life.
For more advice on selecting, using and maintaining respiratory protection, check the resources section of www.planfarmsafety.ca for a respiratory protection poster and Manitoba Agriculture and Rural Initiatives site at www.gov. mb.ca/agriculture/farmsafety for a brochure from SafeFarms.